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Tory leader says premier engaged in a cover-up of Michelle Coffin’s story 

Jamie Baillie finally got Stephen McNeil to address The Coast's interview with former Liberal staffer during question period.

click to enlarge Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie speaking to reporters last spring. - THE COAST
  • Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie speaking to reporters last spring.
  • THE COAST

Premier Stephen McNeil is changing his tune about the rehiring of Kyley Harris, nearly four months after The Coast first reported Michelle Coffin’s story.

Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie pressed the premier on the Liberal Party’s version of events during the first question period of the fall assembly at Province House, Friday.

Coffin, a former Liberal staffer says she felt her colleagues turned their back on her after she was assaulted by her partner, former Liberal spokesperson Kyley Harris in 2014. Several months after pleading guilty to assault, Harris was quietly hired back by the Party and then promoted to campaign communications director in the kickoff to last May’s provincial election.

Liberal MLA incumbent Labi Kousoulis would subsequently tell Coffin on her doorstep that the decision to rehire Harris came after the premier “called all of the women’s organizations and asked what they thought, and they unanimously said that he should be rehired.”

Today, the premier broke his silence on the matter, replying to Baillie’s questions by saying it was not he himself, but the former minister for the Status of Women who “would have reached out to women’s groups to consult and seek support on rehiring Harris.”

All the organizations that work with survivors of domestic violence that were contacted last spring by The Coast denied ever being approached by the Liberal party in any capacity about Harris.

“She [Coffin] was lied to. That action calls into question whether this government takes seriously domestic violence or not,” says Baillie.

“Domestic assault is a very difficult issue to discuss. But we’re never going to make the steps necessary when our most senior government officials engage in a cover-up.”

The Tories say they consulted with Coffin first before bringing the issue up today during question period.

“The issue is no longer Mr. Harris,” Baillie redirects. “The issue now is whether Mr. Kousoulis was truthful when he made those statements to Ms. Coffin and now, sadly, whether the premier was truthful in his answers in the Legislature.”

Premier McNeil declined to speak further on the matter.

Joanne Bernard, who was the minister responsible for the Status of Women at the time the decision to rehire Harris was made, also declined comment. Staff at the current Status of Women office did not respond to requests for an interview.

For its part, the McNeil government is moving forward with a new domestic violence court in Halifax, set to open sometime after January 2018, when courtroom space becomes available.

In the meantime, Baillie says his party doesn’t intend to drop the story.

“We’ll return to this in the days ahead as we have yet to get a straight answer,” says Baillie. “I believe Ms. Coffin deserves a straight answer.”

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